Very often I am asked about life after the GROM. “What does a guy like you do in retirement? Don’t you miss all that adrenaline and heat?” I don’t like answering such questions, but I’m always impatiently waiting for a moment when I can take my backpack and simply go hiking.
I still have this habit from GROM that I plan each trip as if it was a military operation. My plans are always most detailed. From choosing the route to making sure I’ve packed every single item, such as black tape, knife and plasticuffs. No, I’m not afraid that such a detailed plan will make the trip loose its appeal and destroy my chances for adventure. I prefer to be prepared as well as I can, and adventures somehow always find me one way of another.
Besides, if you don’t study the timetables diligently, it might turn out that the journey to the Himalayas will take you much longer than planned.
The clothes of other passengers remind you that you’ve just changed a time zone and your cultural comfort zone. But it isn’t until you land in Kathmandu and realize that the only person that looks exotic is yourself that the journey really begins.
At the airport, you can meet hucksters who promise to get you anything you want and take you anywhere you desire at the lowest price possible. I recommend hiring guides with a Ministry of Tourism license. Having said that, I later learnt that cheating doesn’t lie in the Nepalese nature.
I set off with my two friends from GROM and a pair of trekking-lovers, Kuba and Anna, from Manchester. Our goal was to go along the Annapurna route. The first stage in Nepal was to get to the starting point. We covered the treacherous, winding, mountain roads with a hired TATA Safari off-road car and a driver. Let’s face it, going by car in this region of the world is always a source of additional adrenaline no one is interested in – drivers are almost always unpredictable, roads lead to precipices, accidents are a norm.
The first day brought us some more adrenaline as we had to give first aid to a wounded motorcyclist. Before traveling to the Himalayas, I suggest refreshing your first-aid training because you never know what might happen. It took us five hours to get from Katmandu to Besi Shahar, our first stop. Until recently, it had been the last place accessible by car. Today, trekking can begin much further along in Tal, where we went the next day. The trek from Tal to Kyupra was 27km. We reached the point of 2600 MASL. After a day like that I fell asleep like a baby.
The next day brought us breathtaking sights. The route from Kyupra to Lower Pisand is a narrow pass with mountains over 6000 and 7000 MASL, and covered snowy tops. The next stop is Braga. From there we went to admire an icy lake. For such a magnificent view it was worth climbing 4647 MASL. And finally Manang. That is a place where most tourists stop for acclimatization for a few days.
You have to give time for your body to get used to the altitude of 3650 MASL. There is also a lot to see, like Buddhist temples, glaciers and the Tilicho lake. After two days we reached Yak Kharka where we ate a delicious yak burger. This was a good, nutritious meal before heading for High Camp on 4850 MASL. The climate became more and more severe with the altitude. Practically all the flora disappeared, and even eagles didn’t fly that high.
We spent our rests admiring the view from mountain tops and dreaming of crossing the pass. The Thorong La Pass (5416 MALS) is not too steep, but every step reminded us that our lungs did not receive the amount of oxygen they needed. We became tired very quickly, as if we had run a few miles where in reality we had a slow hike. Luckily, the pass turned out to be a very welcoming place with barely any wind, and we could take a few great photos. We almost run down to Muktinath, a place straight from another world, “a place of liberation” where the two greatest religions meet. Hiking in the Himalayas is also a chance to get close to the oldest religions in the world – Hinduism and Buddhism.
Warm, even hot water under the shower, Internet access and other perks of living in “civilization.” We reached Totopani by jeep because the road proved to be a nightmare for hikers. Totopani is an important place on any trekking map, with its hot springs that can ease your pain after a long walk.
On the highest mountain in the world it’s not the fragrance of the perfume that counts but the level of oxygen in the air, where a warm jacket and comfortable shoes simply mean survival. You give thanks that you can keep your strength and reach a shelter before sunset.
So if you ask me if I miss the adrenaline and adventures I can honestly say, “In a moment like this, hell no.”
Thanks for listening